How Often Does The Driver Leading The Championship In The Summer Break Win The Title?

How Often Does The Driver Leading The Championship In The Summer Break Win The Title?

Is it an advantage to be at the head of the championship table going into the summer break, or is it better to be the chaser?

Lewis Hamilton’s 24-point championship lead over Sebastian Vettel heading into this year’s summer break seems like a handy advantage to have. But does it make him statistically likely to win the championship? We took a look back over the past 17 seasons to see what happened.

Can Vettel mount a comeback over the rest of the season? (c) Ferrari
Can Vettel mount a comeback over the rest of the season? (c) Ferrari

In the 17 seasons since 2001, on 11 occasions the driver leading into the summer break has won the title. Case closed, it’s statistically likely Hamilton will win this year, article over. Right?

Not quite.

Of those 11 occasions, eight came from the period from 2001-2009. Only in 2007, when Kimi Raikkonen was 20 points down on championship leader Hamilton, was the gap overhauled. That’s probably down to a number of factors, mainly that many of those championship ‘battles’ were quite one-sided - Michael Schumacher in 2001, 2002, and 2004, Fernando Alonso in 2005, and Jenson Button in 2009.

It was a definite statistical advantage to lead the title in the 2000s... (c) Ferrari
It was a definite statistical advantage to lead the title in the 2000s... (c) Ferrari

The clever clogs among you will have worked out that means that since 2010, the summer break title leader ended up losing out by the end of the season on five occasions - including last year.

The three times they carried it through to the end were, again, fairly dominant seasons - Vettel in 2011 and 2013, and Hamilton in 2015, his most comprehensive victory over Nico Rosberg.

As for the losers? In 2010, Vettel turned a 10-point deficit to championship leader Mark Webber into a 14-point lead by season’s end. Alonso was a whopping 42 points ahead of Vettel in 2012 and lost by three points In 2014 Nico Rosberg was 11 points up on Hamilton yet lost the title by 67 points (thanks to double points). That was flipped around in 2016 when Hamilton led by 19 points and lost by five, and last year Vettel squandered a 14-point advantage to lose by 46 points (and didn’t even take it to the final race).

...But in the 2010s, it's statistically better to be behind at this point in the season. (c) Red Bull Content Pool
...But in the 2010s, it's statistically better to be behind at this point in the season. (c) Red Bull Content Pool

So, what does it mean? Well, nothing - like a lot of F1 statistics, they’re essentially meaningless when it comes to making predictions because each season is almost entirely irrelevant when compared to other seasons. However in this case, the stats do show that during this decade, the driver who’s behind in the championship at this stage does win the title more often than not.

Drivers have also overcome bigger gaps than the 24-points currently separating Hamilton and Vettel. In other words, it’s still all to play for. You knew that already, though, so you might be wondering what the point of this article was. It’s simple: stats are fun!

Here’s the raw data for you to look at and draw your own conclusions from, if you’re interested (drivers mentioned in brackets were second in the championship heading into the summer break that season.)

2001 - Schumacher was 37 points ahead of Coulthard, won the championship by 58 points
2002 - Schumacher was 71 points ahead of Barrichello (66 ahead of Montoya), had already won the championship, eventually won by 67 points
2003 - Schumacher was 9 points ahead of Raikkonen (6 ahead of Montoya), won the championship by 2 points
2004 - Schumacher was 36 points ahead of Barrichello, won the championship by 34 points
2005 - Alonso was 26 points ahead of Raikkonen, won the championship by 21 points
2006 - Alonso was 10 points ahead of Schumacher, won the championship by 13 points
2007 - Hamilton was 20 points ahead of Raikkonen (7 points ahead of Alonso), lost the championship by 1 point
2008 - Hamilton was 8 points ahead of Massa (5 ahead of Raikkonen), won the championship by 1 point
2009 - Button was 23 points ahead of Vettel (18.5 ahead of Webber ), won the championship by 11 points
2010 - Webber was 10 points ahead of Vettel (4 ahead of Hamilton), lost the championship by 14 points
2011 - Vettel was 100 points ahead of Button (85 ahead of Webber), won the championship by 122 points
2012 - Alonso was 42 points ahead of Vettel (40 ahead of Webber), lost the championship by 3 points
2013 - Vettel was 39 points ahead of Alonso (38 ahead of Raikkonen), won the championship by 155 points
2014 - Rosberg was 11 points ahead of Hamilton, lost the championship by 67 points
2015 - Hamilton was 21 points ahead of Rosberg, won the championship by 59 points
2016 - Hamilton was 19 points ahead of Rosberg, lost the championship by 5 points
2017 - Vettel was 14 points ahead of Hamilton, lost the championship by 46 points

Have you spotted anything interesting? Let us know in the comments!